By Ed Sum (The Vintage Tempest)
I’m sure the numbers of how many people who attended the short preview to Doctor Strange (on a long weekend in North America) is as varied as the response to this film. While I’m excited to catch the end-product come November 4th (the 3D sequences when he’s flying through the multiverse look great), just how many die-hards can accept the movie’s obvious changes will determine its success. I’m okay with the gender-swapping of the Ancient One, and Tilda Swinton is a very respectable actress. With no successor to Mako Iwamatsu’s amazing presence, I’m guessing the producers had make changes lest they do a casting call throughout China / Tibet to find someone just as promising to fill the role.
When the introduction reveals nearly an hours’ worth of scenes are shot with IMAX cameras, the need to tease fans with what is to come is obvious — to spotlight the special effects on a box screen. I will certainly plan to see it again at the National Geographic IMAX Theatre. Sadly this operation plays these movies as a second-run product. Not every cinema has a proper screen to show off this format right.
In what is more in front and centre is Stephen Strange’s ego (Benedict Cumberbatch) which can easily rival Tony Stark’s. When he’s a famous neurosurgeon with some pent up frustrations over who he is required to operate on, the first few minutes works very well to show how conceited he is. That’s until he looks away from where he is driving to a cell phone (showing x-ray scans of his next patient instead of playing Pokémon GO) and winds up over a cliff. The slow-motion scene shows his hands getting crushed.
With no further career to enjoy, he’s in Tibet. There’s no explanation as to why he chose to go there, but after meeting the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), everything he knows is tossed out the window. He’s a man of science instead of superstition. His idea of what reality represents is going to be thrown for a loop. I have to bring up a line which I love from Mythbusters. Adam Savage popularized the quote from the movie, The Dungeonmaster — “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” and that must be what writers Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill are going for. Part of the preview shows Strange visiting various dimensions and, of course, saving New York.
All those moments from the shorter trailers are extended to show that this movie is stealing ideas from Inception, Interstellar and perhaps also Mage: The Ascension from White Wolf Publishing. This early version of the role playing game has a fascinating backstory. Since the early days, some magic users have become guardians of the peace and others look to reshape it. Strange will have an adversary who wants to mould it to his needs, and there’s a tease where the mighty god Dormammu may play a role in the finale. In what caught my interest is the dialogue which sets up what the Infinity Stones represents in this cinematic universe. There’s also a lot of talk about multi-verses (to which Strange gets a crash course on in a trippy flight through various dimensions) and none of that really matters unless these movies plan on moving in the same route as the animated Ultimate Spider-Man series and introduce heroes from alternate timelines.
I’m more interested in how this movie fits into the grander scheme. Strange’s origin and conflict with a group of separatists are set up in this teaser. While I still feel some movies operate better if the producers assume audiences already know the beginnings of the said hero, at least the dynamics between Strange and the possible love interest, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) will have to get expanded on. Interestingly, I do not recall her presence in the short time I spent reading the comic books. I followed the series when Jackson “Butch” Guice was the artist and there’s a bar set by the books that I hope the film can surpass.
While the story has to be focussed on the budding relationship Strange has with Palmer, I’m wondering how important the rules of mysticism and deep into the occult lore this film will get? There’s a part of me which hopes Aleister Crowley will be referenced but by the hoary hosts of Hoggoth I’ll be disappointed if no connections with past masters, like Merlin, are not made. This film is set to introduce magic to a mostly tech / meta-human driven comic book universe and this realm should not be treated lightly.